#2046 | Yet another note on pain

Since my last update I have spent more money than I am comfortable with (and yet, I hear, not enough!) on:

1. A laptop stand (bought one, returned it, bought another)
2. An external keyboard (bought one, and after being informed online that my purchase was UNERGONOMIC, returned it, bought another)
3. Wrist and mouse rest (thankfully, I brought a mouse with me from Singapore)

And today: 4. A proper office chair.

This is upsetting indeed. I have tried diligently to avoid purchasing an office chair because A) I like my current chair a lot but it’s too short B) I dont want to spend more money because even breathing air in New York City is bloody expensive, and C) no matter how you spin it, office chairs are damned ugly.

But it has come to this. I spend at least 5-6 hours a day at my desk, typing, or editing. My wrist has protested in the form of carpal tunnel. My back moans at me every day. This is unreasonable for a woman of only twenty seven – one who eats veggies, fruits, and worked out 4-5 times a week before my hand required me to pause all physically strenuous activity! There’s no getting around it: I feel so betrayed by my body. I feel as if I have treated it with respect and all it wants from me is money and more money. Is this what having kids is like? Ugh.

Anyway, in a bid to avoid spending money, I’d traded my beautiful white chair for my housemate’s office chair the last two weeks. There’s no denying that the ability to adjust the height of the chair has improved my life greatly. But my back still creaks and I don’t like how the chair leans back. Plus, being a small Chinese girl, my feet can’t touch the floor in this chair that has too wide a seat. Lastly, and perhaps most pertinently, this is not my chair. It’s my housemate’s, and there is a lease to his generosity. It will have to be returned at some point. It was becoming increasingly clear that I would have to spend some dollahs.

Thus began a couple of weeks of obsessively pouring over Amazon and Wayfair reviews, options, prices. Everything was expensive, and even then, all chairs came with both very good and very bad reviews. Perhaps I am not as much of an optimist as I previously thought: I became fixated on the bad. If I were to spend money to remain in pain perhaps it would be better not to spend the money at all? But at the back of my mind I knew these were just excuses: I needed a chair.

I finally went to a Staples today after church. I was enticed by the big red sign, CHAIR SAVINGS EVENT! It reminded me of the way sales in Korea are referred to as Events. Events, in my head: a thing to be celebrated. Much like the erasure of my lower back pain. A woman in her mid twenties should not be in this much lower back pain. I pushed the doors open and went in.

I spent about half an hour sitting in various chairs, rolling around, leaning back, trying to touch the floor. I sat in mesh chairs, leather chairs, gaming chairs, cushy chairs. I realised that comfortable, soft chairs encouraged in me a mood of laziness. That gaming chairs were too ugly for me to bear. I wish I were an artist so apart from the material world but the truth is, I am not. I enjoy pretty things and will not be shamed for it! I concluded that leather chairs seem made primarily for wide-bottomed men, so much so that if I wanted to sit straight, my back would not touch the chair, in which case, what for? That left mesh, which I did not love, but seemed the most practical for the purposes of cleaning. And besides, they looked the most ventilated, which I thought of in terms of the eventual arrival of summer, a mark of my ability to plan ahead.

There was this one chair I had been avoiding, partially because other people were trying it most of the time, partially because it looked plain and unenticing, mostly because it cost two hundred dollars.

But I had tried everything else in the store and everything felt like a compromise. I walked over, sat down, and fell in love.

It was the correct height, the correct width. My back felt like it was being gently supported by a pair of hands. The seat was not so deep that I would have to fidget to get my back against the chair while remaining upright. The armrests were movable, and removable. In that moment looks no longer mattered to me, it was no longer plain, nor boring, it was the proverbial one. My back was singing. It was two hundred dollars.

A girlfriend called me then, I explained my situation, all the while nestling deeper against the chair. She said: two hundred dollars for a peace of mind? Jemimah, there are some things you save money on, and some you don’t.

I went to the counter and placed my order. As if by divine intervention, the sales assistant looked it over and pronounced that it was on sale and would come up to only $130. Only! I thought about how my initial budget for a new chair was fifty dollars and then quickly brushed that thought away. I hemmed and hawwed for another ten minutes over whether I wanted Chair Insurance which is apparently very much a thing. I got the insurance.

I am now back at home, sitting in my housemate’s chair, writing this. My new chair will arrive on Tuesday, at which point I will have to build it. Till then, my meals will have to consist whatever is already in my fridge, or on sale at the grocery store. My chair has usurped more than two weeks worth of grocery money, which is causing me a different type of acute pain. But I cannot bring myself to be unhappy. I cannot help but think, though unrealistically, that from this moment everything will change. Ah – so this is what it is. One must advance with a heady mix of optimism, naivete, and deliberately placed limitations on her field of vision. Such are the ingredients necessary to proceeding as a functioning member of a world straddled between the practical and absurd.

x
Jem

#2045| To world enough, and time

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Illustration: Shane Lim for Her World
A version of this piece was published in Her World’s 2020 February issue for their Modern Love column. Many thanks to Hayley and team for housing it – you can get the issue in stores now. x

Reader,

I write to you from across the seas. Between us there is everything: the North Atlantic Ocean, the Philippine Sea, the Laccadive, the Arabian.. my dreams, and my ambition.

From young this has defined me: pools and pools of ambition, that I have alternatively swam and struggled in. I was terrified of waking up one day to find that I had wasted my life: and so I threw myself into work, trying to write my way into a life I found meaningful. I was raised in the age of change, where Hollywood romances had started to peter off into slogans of female independence, critical essays questioning the status quo of a life lived prioritizing the couple over the individual. As a result, I saw a relationship as a likely death sentence to the pursuit of individual dreams, a lifetime of half-compromises. Where would I find a partner who would be okay with all the things that I wanted? And yet, six years ago when I met a boy on the eastbound train from NTU, I hoped.

The limit of Shane’s okay has stretched beyond the limits of my expectations. He has been by my side as I researched writing programs, been the first reader and editor for any story I write, the organizing principle to the chaos of my mind. He does this while maintaining a life, a career, an artistic practice that is separate from mine, from our relationship. In the past six years, my work as a travel host took me all over the world in short bursts, rehearsals in being apart, and yet he never once complained as I tried to figure out where my life was going. He was, and has been, more supportive than I could’ve ever dreamed. Still, when I called him one evening last year with news of my acceptance to Columbia, I was afraid. Surely this is it, I thought, surely now is when he goes, alright, I just want a girlfriend who is present, is that so much to ask?

Instead, he asked me to marry him. Two months before I flew, what I thought was a birthday celebration for a girlfriend* turned out to be an elaborate proposal, a six act theatrical experience based on a play he wrote. And then it dawned on me: this two-year long-distance relationship I imposed upon us both with my individual ambition was not something he secretly resented, nor something he was simply tolerating. It is something he is actively, wholeheartedly committing to.

And so we are engaged, promised to each other. But while a promise suggests future fulfillment, Shane has shown me that a relationship can have space in the present for both parties to grow into their own person, chasing their dreams while always having a home to return to in the other. This should be obvious but it is not always. This distance between us: it is also a promise towards reunion. And although we are physically apart, we know that our endgame is in each other.

Bio

Jemimah Wei is a writer based in New York City, pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University. Her partner, Shane Lim, depending on who you ask, is either a copywriter, a poet, an illustrator, a best friend to many, an incredibly supportive fiancé to one, or all of the above.

*the same girlfriend from my essay: To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, published in Her World’s December 2018 issue.

#2041| The end of a decade

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Hey guys,

The years 2010 to 2019 saw me through the best and worst times, which sounds dramatic until you realise that it was literally half my life. What does it mean to be nearly thirty and still think one decade is half your life? Time to get with the program Jem.

Still, even as someone who has no interest in sharing their worst with the world, I think this year was quite objectively the best of the decade. In fact, this morning I was just thinking of myself at the start of the decade and at the end of it, and look what I got:

2009 Jemimah: stressed out by impending A levels, stressed out by money, no cat
2019 Jemimah: stressed out by manuscript word count, stressed out by money, has a cat

See the difference? Hint: At least I’m stressed out by factors of my own choosing now. That wasn’t a hint, that was the whole answer. The moral of the story is that adulting may bring with it bills and lower back pain, but it is also accompanied by agency, so hang in there. Also, I can confirm that getting a cat does wonders for your *mental health*.

But 2019! What can I say. The year was good to me. This year I got engaged, did my last show for the forseeable future, got into my dream school, moved to New York, understood the importance of health insurance in the USA and appreciated Singapore’s efficiency even more, and, freaked out about snow. Here are some of the top moments of my year:

1. Sitting pant-less in a hotel room in Bali at the end of a long day of shoot where I was getting grumpier and grumpier because! I had applied for Columbia late last year, and was part of this international MFA facebook group called MFA Draft where anyone around the world trying to apply for any MFA exchanges notes, advice, and so on. Unfortunately this included people posting their acceptances, and the ENTIRE DAY I was getting notifications on my phone about people getting into Columbia’s Poetry and Nonfiction program. And I know I should have just not looked at it but I couldn’t help myself. So in between scenes (and I remember very clearly: we were shooting at a vintage store in the middle of nowhere, and I was switching like a maniac between totally depressed and totally freakin hyper for the camera) I would check the FB group compulsively, and although there were no Fiction acceptances yet, in my head I was convinced THEY DIDN’T WANT ME AND I DIDN’T GET IN.

Here, this was the exact moment I was freaking out. We were shooting season 3 of Singtel’s Ready Set Roam and Roz was wondering why I was so tense the whole day.


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When we got back to the hotel room I refused to shower and kind of just sat around pant-less trying to get to my emails, and then I looked down and saw that there was a missed call from a +1 number. I swear I nearly fell off my chair.



I scrambled to call the number back, and this damn angmoh voice came on the line (in my head I was like OMG AMERICA!) going: Hi, this is Gary Shteyngart calling from Columbia University…

The rest you can guess.

2. Then I called Shane to tell him and he hung up on me.

3. Later he said this was because he walked into a lift and got cut off,
but who walks into a clearly reception-less area when they’re on an important phone call right?? Apparently that was also the moment he started planning to propose.

4. Let there be no doubt: this was 100% the reason Shane proposed in 2019.
I asked him much later, I said: Why did you propose this year? And he said, Cos you’re going to Columbia lor. In fact, when he gave me the ring, he said: Don’t get any funny ideas when you go to New York. So for people who were like, omg, do you think he proposed to you because you were leaving and he wanted to put a ring on it, the answer is YES. No doubt about it at all.

5. At risk of being basic and cheesy it was a super great proposal
and I had SO MUCH FUN. He wrote a 6 act immersive play, and all my friends were involved as actors but the actual proposal was done privately on the rooftop, just Shane and I. Plus points because I genuinely did not see it coming, in fact when the proposal started I thought Fred was proposing to Georgina and I got mad because no one told me.



6. And then we had a really fun engagement party the day after in Batam!

7. And then I proposed back to Shane so we are even now.
With a ring I actually painstakingly handmade with wax before getting casted properly, and what did Shane say to that? That’s not how it works Jem you cannot counter propose back to me. To which I said, don’t like then return the ring. And that’s the story of how actually you can counter propose to someone.

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8. A big part of why Shane was able to plan and meet with all my friends for rehearsals and stuff without me even noticing a thing was because I was away for a big part of the first half of the year on different shoots, the last being E! Travel Diaries. Which will always hold special significance for me because it’s probably the last show I’ll do for a long time, if ever.


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In fact, when we were shooting in Lombok, one of the scenes had me trying my hand at weaving – in that village, if you can’t weave, you can’t get married. And I was so bad at it that David, one of my co-hosts, was like, yup, good thing you’re not from that village. Then we got fake-engaged on camera and two days after I got back to Singapore after we finished shooting I got engaged for real! Turning David into the real-life Good Luck Chuck. Any girls in West Java want to get engaged, please look for David John Schaap.

9. Another big part of getting the Columbia acceptance was accepting also the reality that I might not actually be able to afford going,
and at some point I actually turned to Shane and said: you’re marrying this giant pile of debt, u ok with that? And he was like, yup, better get a job. Anyway, it was another great moment when I got the scholarship call from Dennys from the Singapore National Arts Council – again, I had three missed calls prior to actually picking up because I was at lunch and I try not to use my phone when I’m with friends as much as possible… so when I finally picked up, the first thing he said wasnt Hi, I’m calling from NAC to congratulate you… but HI, DID YOU SEE OUR EMAIL?

It was a great moment.

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10. All of that was basically the first half of my 2019. I think of it as 2019 Act I. Knowing that I was going away was also a great reason for me to make many drastic decisions, one of which was that I would absolutely cease work for a month before I was due to leave, so as to make the most of my time with friends, family, and fiancé. This led to an incredibly fun August, where my friends basically took every opportunity to gather and we were essentially hanging out every day.

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11. Also, yes, at some point I went blonde.
You know, to differentiate myself from the rest of the people in America, because certainly no one else would be blonde there.

12. Jk i love it.

13. 2019 Act II saw me moving to New York, having my own place for the first time in my life, and starting at Columbia!
Moving was a pain in the ass, because of reasons that even after months I still find myself unable to talk about. Sometimes I discuss this with my housemates and we find that we all still have mild PTSD. Lol. But anyway, that’s all in the past.

14. There were many amazing moments that happened during my time here, but the top ones have to be the random freak snow storm that attacked New York City, making me and exactly no one else very happy, finally being done with furnishing my room (which saw me going on a grand tour of NYC hunting down second hand furniture), and being a total tourist while delighting in year end festivities.

15. Read 113 books this year

16. Having this be the most productive writing year of my life. How can I describe the feeling of knowing that your struggle is exactly the struggle you’re meant to be engaging with at the moment? It is like this: having your foot slip into a new shoe perfectly, the first sip of coffee in the morning, the click of a latch. The end of the decade: knowing that the road ahead is long and arduous, but that at least it is the road you chose to take.

Here come the twenties, again.

x
Jem

#2040| The most wonderful time of the year

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Christmas eve, new york

How rapidly things have changed in just one year. A year ago I had just returned from my stint in London and spent christmas surrounded by the raucous laughter of friends and family, today i am sitting alone in my new apartment in New York, with my five dollar bottle of wine, a candle burning cardamom and vetiver into the air, and Joe Hisaishi’s 25 year concert in the background, making my way steadily through my reading list. Somehow life always knows exactly what you need, and when.

x
Jem

# 2039 | Seven Minutes

How much sorrow can a body bear? Bella wakes alone in her regular way. She blinks, looks at me, and waits.

x
Jem